Born 20 April 1939, Jacksonville, Florida
The possessor of a clear, high tenor voice, Johnny Tillotson enjoyed his greatest success between 1960 and 1964. His music from that period is a mix of teen pop, ballads, polite rock & roll and later also country. Not particularly innovative, but always melodious and well produced.
Encouraged by his mother and grandmother, Tillotson developed his singing and songwriting skills. At the age of nine he already sang on local radio and in his teens he was a regular on the country-oriented Toby Dowdy TV show for three years. He even had his own weekly TV show for some time, the Velda Show in his native Jacksonville.
In 1958 Tillotson was signed to Archie Bleyer's Cadence label. Though this was a New York label, all Johnny's Cadence sessions took place in Nashville (like his Cadence labelmates The Everly Brothers). The first one, in mid-1958, resulted in his debut single that coupled the teen ballad "Dreamy Eyes" with the up-tempo "Well I'm Your Man", both Johnny's own compositions. Both sides charted, peaking at # 63 and # 87 respectively and when the single was reissued in late 1961, "Dreamy Eyes" did even better and reached # 35. Meanwhile, Tillotson completed his studies at the University of Florida in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and communications.
Four more chart entries followed between August 1959 and May 1960, but nothing went Top 40 until "Poetry In Motion", the biggest hit of his career (# 2 US, # 1 UK, late 1960). The song was first attempted in New York City with King Curtis on sax, but it was a later version with Boots Randolph that was released. The version with King Curtis remained in the vaults until 2011, when it was rescued by Bear Family ; it is included among the YouTube selections below. The flip-side of "Poetry In Motion", "Princess, Princess" was popular in its own right and the equal of many of his later hits. In general, the quality of Johnny's B-sides was above average.
The follow-up, "Jimmy's Girl", was less successful (still reaching # 25), but Tillotson returned to the Top 10 in September 1961 with "Without You" (# 7), one of his best recordings IMO, in spite of a short recitation part (typical of the period). Then, in 1962, Johnny began to record country-styled material, first of all the self-penned "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'", which became his second- biggest hit, with a peak position of # 3. It was also his first entry on the country charts (# 4). The song has been recorded by over 100 performers, including Elvis Presley and Billy Joe Royal, whose version went to # 17 country in 1988. Tillotson's next single, a remake of Hank Locklin's "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On", also did well on both charts (# 17 pop, # 11 country). This was followed by a single that coupled two Hank Williams songs, "I Can't Help It"/ "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", another double-sided hit. In the spring of 1963 Johnny toured the UK with Del Shannon and filmed his part in the British B-movie "Just For Fun", singing "Judy, Judy, Judy" (a song he co- wrote with Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman). The year 1963 brought Tillotson three more hits on Cadence, before the label ceased to exist. Almost all of Johnny's Cadence singles were released in the UK, on London American.
He then signed with MGM and had immediate success with a cover of Ernest Ashworth's # 1 country hit "Talk Back Trembling Lips" (# 7 pop). The next eight MGM singles (1964-65) all entered the pop charts, though nothing went Top 30. A revival of "Heartaches By the Number" came closest (# 35) and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal performance of the year. That was the end of his pop chart success, though he would score a few minor country hits in 1967-68, 1977 and 1984. Tillotson continued to record for Amos (1969-71), Buddah (1971-73), Columbia (1973-75), United Artists (1976-77) and Reward (1982-84). Nothing charted in the USA, but in the 1980s he had a few hits in Japan, following successful appearances there. Altogether he had 26 entries into the Billboard Hot 100.
His honours include inductions into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame (2008) and the Florida Artists Hall of Fame (2011). After a long absence, Johnny released a new single in 2010, "Not Enough", which reached # 1 on the Indie country chart. He is still performing today.
Official website : http://www.johnnytillotson.com/
Sessionography / discography :
Acknowledgements : Adam Komorowski, Frank Frantik, Wikipedia, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, November 2014
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